Days…months…years go by and still Lincoln City political and other community leaders still can’t agree on what to do about the explosive growth of vacation rental dwellings, VRDs, which the city council and the community have been wrestling with for several iterations of city councils and two city managers.
Perhaps by putting more heads together on the topic the city council and the town’s planning commission this week sat around two long tables, with a sizeable audience looking on, as City Manager Ron Chandler went over the rough road the city has traveled over the past year, and a troublesome election cycle to try to find a way out of the seemingly endless dark woods of the endless VRD controversy.
While the Oregon Coast’s economy has been sputtering as it tries to climb out from under the Great Recession of 2008, suddenly VRDs have become an overnight source of new jobs and fast cash for city coffers via tourism room taxes from those VRDs. Trouble is, the city can’t seem to get a firm handle on how to control them so they don’t chronically disrupt normally quiet neighborhoods with loud parties, trash strewn about yards and sidewalks and streets and lawns clogged with parked cars.
Many neighborhoods are fed up. Many residents contend VRDs are commercial operations planted in the middle of peaceful and quiet neighborhoods, like hundreds of camels noses all barging in to where they now dominate most of the western part of the city. And, what’s more, investors want to create many more of them because these tourism magnets have become like lucrative ATM machines for their owners. In truth, this push-coming-to-shove spectacle is being replicated from coast to coast – in many instances worsening what is already a critical shortage of affordable housing for low to middle class workers.
City Manager Ron Chandler walked the council and planning commissioners through the last year of the “VRD Wars” which saw attempt after attempt at solving the dilemma either get killed by council votes or new legal remedies getting squashed by angry voters. But Chandler pushed on.
Chandler tried to clarify where things are today – the issue getting back to basics – that VRDs are fundamentally commercial operations that are now legal in typically regular city neighborhoods. Especially those neighborhoods close to the beach. Chandler reminded the two panels that what appears to be the trend, is for vacation rentals to take over housing west of Highway 101 for long stretches close to and right on the beach. Another trend is that vacation rentals on the east side of 101 are no where near as thick as on the west.
Chandler presented an argument that suggested that VRDs be more prevalent along the west side of 101 while reducing their frequency on the east side of town. It would give some relief to residents who don’t want the hustle and bustle of active vacationers doing their thing right next door or across the street day in, day out and often all night too.
There was also talk of still allowing VRD owners to continue operating in the less dense VRD areas on the east side of 101, but when an owner eventually sells his house, it would revert back to a single family dwelling – its VRD license non-transferable to the new owner. This raised the hackles among some of the onlookers who decried the drop in sales price of a home reverting back to a standard residential dwelling – no longer a business. In defense of the idea, Chandler said it is a way to remove VRDs where they’re not wanted and increase their density in areas where they are wanted. It’s a tactic used by countless tourist cities across the country to the same end.
Others on the planning commission and a few on the council raised the issue of dropping the term “accessory use” from the city’s VRD ordinances, obviously begging the issue of opening up the whole town to VRDs. Those few VRDs on the east side of 101 could possibly be dubbed Accessory Use dwellings – homes that the owner lives in for a substantial part of the year, renting them out as VRDs for only short stretches of the calendar. The Accessory Use provision has been the bane of those who favor opening up all of Lincoln City to vacation rentals to further boost the economy and, of course, their own fortunes. But residents wanting to reserve parts of Lincoln City as “normal neighborhoods” see Accessory Use as a firewall to protect them.
All these VRD elements and more will be bantered about at another city council and planning commission confab at city hall in a couple of weeks – date not yet determined. In the meantime, City Manager Ron Chandler has announced he’s going to take a VRD “Road Show” around Lincoln City and invite residents to attend and offer their thoughts and opinions on what THEY would like to see done about these community tug-of-wars over VRDs.
Once the Road Show is over, all the observations and findings gleaned from it will be presented to the City Council. Councilors will review and debate those findings and hopefully will enact new city rules to allow for VRDs to remain a key element of Lincoln City’s economy – all the while leaving large areas of town peaceful and quiet.
At least that’s the goal – if not the dream.